The tragedy that occurred in Wenfield in 1919 still haunts Detective Inspector Albert Lincoln and no matter how hard he tries, he finds it impossible to move on from one particular consequence. He had no desire to return to the village, but when a Member of Parliament disappears and a naked body is found with its face ruined beyond recognition, Albert is forced to return by his superiors.
Some things have moved on in Wenfield, but the past still casts shadows. Trying to deal with upheaval in his own life, Albert finds things even more complicated when a second death occurs, a death that seems to be a simple domestic case. Are both murders linked? Was the death of the local vicar weeks earlier also murder? And who is following Albert’s every move from the shadows?
A word of warning first of all – this is the final part of a trilogy of mysteries, starting with A High Mortality of Doves and continuing with The Boy Who Lived With The Dead. These are both excellent books, and I will do my very best not to spoil the crucial events in those in this review, because those are books you simply must read. They stand amongst the finest work by Kate Ellis, probably the finest set of “between the wars” mysteries that I have read. But also, you simply must read those before reading this one because this is a proper trilogy – the events of the first two books have significant repercussions here, and as such, this book spoils the events of the first two over and over again.
Normally, this bothers me when a book just happens to spoil an earlier mystery for no particular reason – note, for example, where Poirot spoils the end of Murder On The Orient Express to impress his new acquaintances in Cards On The Table, something which is especially odd given he covered up the truth in the earlier book – but this is different, as the story of Albert Lincoln is tied to the three murder mysteries in the three books. Yes, they can stand alone, but you wouldn’t want to read them out of order.
Either as the end of a trilogy or as a standalone, this is an excellent book. As you expect from Kate, there is far more than a simple murder mystery. The investigation is interspersed with the narrative of Rose, the abused wife whose dreams of murdering her husband. It’s a great piece of counterpoint to the main story, and Kate really channels an effective voice of a not-desperately bright individual trapped in a marriage that only seems to have one way out, who then becomes trapped once her husband is actually killed.
The narrative concerning Albert is beautifully balanced between his decaying home life, his recent transgressions and the current investigations, with the mystery never being far from the forefront of the tale, a balance that some writers find hard to find, with the personal often dominating. This is a murder mystery, first and foremost, with plenty going on the keep the ready guessing.
The historical element is also done exceptionally well. By setting the books so close to the end of the Great War, the shadow of the conflict is still hanging low over the country, and, without spoiling anything, Kate does a good job of taking advantage of the setting to tie things in properly to the mystery. Some historical mysteries set in this era tend use the physical setting without the emotional resonance of the recent conflict but that is certainly not the case here.
With a little honesty, there’s one aspect from the second book that didn’t really need to be here, apart from tying up a loose end, as there’s no real surprise to that part of the tale. That’s my only niggle, though, and to be honest, it’s nice to see it all sorted out.
I would strongly recommend reading this entire trilogy – as I said, I think it’s some of Kate’s finest work and regular readers know that Kate is one of my favourite modern writers. There’s a reason she won CWA Dagger In The Library award recently, and if you haven’t tried her work before, this trilogy – A High Mortality Of Doves, The Boy Who Lived With The Dead and this one is an ideal place to start.
Many thanks to Kate and Constable Books for the review copy. The House of the Hanged Woman is out now in hardback and ebook.